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Idaho Senate committee declines to introduce bill modeled after Texas abortion law

Idaho Senate In Session
Otto Kitsinger
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The Senate in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

In other legislative action on Monday, House committee advances vaccine workers compensation bill

The Senate State Affairs Committee gridlocked on Monday over a draft bill modeled after a Texas abortion law, blocking the proposal from being introduced.

Blaine Conzatti, president of Idaho Family Policy Center, told legislators the draft bill would amend Idaho’s existing “fetal heartbeat bill” to give family members of “an unlawfully aborted preborn baby” standing to file a lawsuit against the person who performs the abortion for damages.

Conzatti, who presented the draft bill, said it was modeled after a Texas law.

“Moving forward, this means that abortionists in Texas now have very limited recourse to legally challenge the constitutionality of the Texas law, which is a good sign for us here in Idaho if we were to follow their model,” Conzatti said.

The vote to introduce the bill was tied 4-4, which means it failed.

Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, worried that in the bill passed that the family of a woman who is an abusive relationship and chooses to have an abortion could then sue and the baby could end up with the abuser if the mother could not care for the baby.

Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said that she is anti-abortion but worried the bill contradicted an area of child welfare, probate and custody law.

“I think we are early enough in the session that we need to get this right,” Lee said. “This is not about just modeling legislation to put something on the books. As I look at aunts and uncles, no matter how tangential that relationship is, that someone could come in and have standing (to sue) is a difficult piece for me on this particular legislation.”

Lee and Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, joined Stennett and Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, in voting against it.

The Idaho Legislature already has laws on the books that would be triggered if the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing a right to an abortion in Roe v. Wade is overturned.

  • In 2020, the Idaho Legislature passed Senate Bill 1385, which makes abortion a crime if the Idaho Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade or gives states the ability to prohibit abortion. 
  • A year later, in 2021, the Legislature passed House Bill 366, the “fetal heartbeat bill.” That law would prohibit abortions after a heartbeat can be detected, which would effectively ban abortions after about six weeks. 

Increasingly, model legislation such as the Texas-style abortion law, are a tactic advocacy groups and policymakers on both sides of the aisle use to share legislation between states. In simplified terms, model legislation is a template bill that could be put forward for introduction in any state with just a few wording changes or local state citations inserted.

Committee advances vaccine workers compensation bill

In other legislative action at the Idaho State Capitol on Monday, the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee voted to advance a bill related to employees who work for employers requiring the COVID-19 vaccine.

If passed into law, House Bill 464 would make it so injuries from employer-mandated vaccines shall be covered and paid out under Idaho workers’ compensation laws.

Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, is sponsoring the bill. Skaug is an attorney who has practiced workers compensation law for 30 years, he told legislators. The bill does the same thing as House Bill 417, which Skaug co-sponsored when the Idaho Legislature returned to session in November. The bill passed the Idaho House 67-3, but was never taken up by the Idaho Senate.

The new bill passed out of committee on a voice vote Monday and received some bipartisan support. Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, voted for the legislation after telling other legislators and the public that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective against the deadly coronavirus.

“In light of the testimony, I just want to remind all of us that 4,407 Idahoans have died of COVID and vaccines are safe and effective,” Necochea said. “My husband is a physician. He has treated some of these folks in the hospital as they were nearing death and they would have given a lot to go back in time and get the vaccine.”

Two leaders of the Health Freedom Idaho testified in opposition to the bill Monday. Formed in 2016, Health Freedom Idaho is a nonprofit that opposes vaccine requirements and pushes back against COVID-19 restrictions and mandates. The Health Freedom Idaho organizers said they oppose the bill because they feel it amounts to the state giving its blessing to employers who require COVID-19 vaccinations.

Skaug said that isn’t the point of the bill, noting that companies already require vaccinations for workers.

“This is not a bill for or against COVID vaccination,” Skaug said. “It’s about helping people who happen to be injured by COVID vaccine.”

House Bill 464 heads next to the House floor with a recommendation to pass it.